Vancouver Wine List Woes

Out-of-town getaways for my husband and I revolve around food exploration.  My favourite type of culinary adventure is the wine survey.  In the past three years, we’ve had the privilege of sipping at the heart of Provence, Napa, Sonoma, and the Okanagan.

Thornhaven: enjoying the view (by tiny bites)

Despite obvious differences in geography, wine-producing regions across the world seem to share a culture of humble vine worship.  Locals are passionate about their craft, knowledgeable about their terroir, and are more than willing to impart their wisdom and enthusiasm to neophytes.  Food stops in the area, from café to haute cuisine, serve table wines that rival some of the higher end bottles lauded in urban centres.   Wine in these regions are accessible; celebrated in daily life and shared often with family and friends.

Why, oh, why is this not the case in Vancouver?

All too often, I walk into a restaurant and cringe at the extravagant pricing of the wine list.  It’s not necessarily because the selections don’t merit distinction. I’m sure there’s a reason that a single bottle can run you over $100.  But I suspect some restaurants of choosing wines for their pomp or celebrity rather than a true appreciation of taste.

In these times of economic turmoil, should I be happy in spending more on my drink than my dinner? Should I be forced to choose only from celebrated wine regions at a hefty premium when there is excellent, moderately priced wine to be had from our own backyard?

It’s lists like these that make wine less accessible to the masses. Is that the goal – to make wine a thing only available to the elite? If so, then Vancouver’s doing a great job.  If, on the other hand, our food service industry does intend to head towards the European culture of daily wine devotion, then our wine purveyors should turn their noses down a little bit to see that average people want to enjoy wine, too.

Happily, there are spots of hope in the Vancouver wine scene.

Memphis Blues: Willowglen Petite Sirah & brisket sandwich combo (by tiny bites)

Memphis Blues, for the no-frills BBQ house that it is, does an excellent job of offering wines at an affordable budget that go surprisingly hand-in-hand with their meat-tastic selections.

Salt: flights of wine (by tiny bites)

Salt Tasting Room’s wine list goes around the world, but they temper higher-end choices with many low- to mid-range selections.  Tasting flights are available for $15 – a great deal for someone looking to expand their palate – and nearly half of their drink menu is available in 2oz single servings. In my experience, Salt’s wines are judiciously chosen to complement the restaurant’s assortment of meats and cheeses, which makes me confident that the occasional wine splurge at Salt would only enhance my dining experience.

Raincity Grill: wine, wine, and more wine (by tiny bites)

Last but not least is Raincity Grill, where Sommelier and General Manager Brent Hayman does his damnest to showcase exemplary wine of the Pacific Northwest.  Don’t expect to find Burgundy or Champagne here. Only BC, Washington, Oregon, and the northern tip of California get the spotlight – complete with maps, terroir notes, and many other educational tidbits embedded in the wine menu.

While the selections are not cheap by any means, the sticker price of bottles from these lesser-known regions is relatively digestible.  One can savour a truly uplifting glass for a fraction of the price than a corresponding bottle from the major wine regions of the world.

If Vancouver restaurants can follow the example of establishments such as these, perhaps the typical Vancouver diner will become less apprehensive about the frou-frou air of wine appreciation and begin to explore (and then demand) quality quaffing at affordable prices.

And, if you allow me to dream a little, perhaps our city can one day be like Paris, where a stroll into a neighbourhood café can net you a $10 bottle that tastes like liquid gold.


5 Responses to “Vancouver Wine List Woes”

  1. Posted on February 3rd, 2009

    My feeling is that most of the blame should be placed on the government – for taxing liquor to such an extent that restauranteurs have to charge an arm-and-a-leg to make a profit on a bottle of wine.

    I have always been impressed by the lists at Parkside and Pied a Terre, both for their variety and their value. I also appreciate a restaurant like Boneta, who keeps a small but continually varying list hand-picked by an excellent sommelier.

    Lately, we’ve seen a couple of wine bars open that will offer the whole list by-the-glass, as long as you have two or more glasses. This is a great idea, and is in keeping with bistros and enotecas in Europe.

    Maybe Vancouver is growing up, after all?

  2. Posted on February 3rd, 2009

    Talking to my friend Anthony at wine importer Farmstead Wines, the provincial tax is something like 117%. He imports it, sets a price above his cost (i.e. the margin he’d like to make), and then the BC govt adds 117%. Ouch.

  3. Posted on February 6th, 2009

    That’s right, Boris. The BC government makes more money on any bottle of wine than the farmer themselves. And the BC provincial tax is really only on imported wine, meaning that the BC wine industry already has a massive protectionist tariff in its favor and many BC are still more expensive than their imported counterparts.

  4. Posted on September 6th, 2010

    The photography is fantastic.

  5. Posted on April 16th, 2013

    A wine bar (also known as a bodega) is a tavern-like business focusing on selling wine, rather than liquor or beer. A typical feature of many wine bars is a wide selection of wines available by the glass. Some wine bars are profiled on wines of a certain type of origin, such as Italian wine or Champagne. While many wine bars are private “stand alone” establishments, in some cases, wine bars are associated with a specific wine retailer or other outlet of wine, to provide additional marketing for that retailer’s wine portfolio.;

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